Friday, December 29, 2006

A festive quiz

How Calcio are you? In the spirit of those Christmas and New Year filler stories in the newspapers, here is my effort. Answer honestly please to discover just how Italian your approach to football is.

1) Your team is back in Europe after 20 years away. Do you:
a) Go to the ground two hours early to soak up the atmosphere?
b) Proudly prepare a "Siamo Tornati" banner?
c) Throw a firework on the pitch and get your ground banned for three matches?

2) Your side, aiming for a UEFA season, is in relegation trouble. Do you:
a) Start travelling to away games to give them the vital support they need?
b) Give them early vocal backing but jeer when they fall three goals behind again?
c) Organise a fans strike which leaves the stadium empty for half the match?

3) A star player for your bitter rivals loses a leg in a serious car crash. Do you:
a) Make a donation to his support fund in appreciation of his skills which rose above petty rivalry?
b) Wish the next derby game was next week?
c) Buy a "You Must Be Hopping Mad" flag?

4) Managing your favourites you find yourselves trailing 4-0 with a man sent off and 40 minutes to play. Do you:
a) Throw on another striker, might as well lose 8-0?
b) Shore up the midfield but keep one pacy front man in the hope of getting something?
c) Get as many defenders on as you can to limit the damage?

5) Installed as president you see your team flying high in an unexpected Champions League spot. Do you?
a) Put a little extra in the January transfer pot to help your manager build on his success?
b) Savour the moment as you know it will pass?
c) Sack the manager after he fails to beat Inter in the San Siro and put all your best players on the transfer list?

6) Working as a touchline reporter you watch the national team record a convincing 3-0 win over Brazil. Do you:
a) Congratulate the coach on his great achievement?
b) Ask the manager if he thought his team was capable of such a result?
c) Ask him why he didn't pick Totti?

7) Your team loses the derby 3-0. Do you:
a) Weep constantly for a month?
b) Curse your players for letting you down?
c) Blame it on the referee's decision not to give you a dodgy penalty in the 89th minute?

8) Jumping for a ball in midfield an opponent accidentally brushes your face with his pinky. Do you:
a) Play on, it never hurt a bit?
b) Flinch and warn him to watch his hands?
c) Fall to the ground writhing in agony, clutching your face and screaming in pain?

9) What is your favourite football food?
a) Pie and bovril?
b) Panino con prosciutto?
c) Pasta, steak, bottle of wine, coffee and grappa during three-hour post-match analysis?

10) Playing at a small provincial team you are at the centre of a bidding war from a number of big sides - including the one you have supported all your life. Do you:
a) Join your favourites, it's a dream come true?
b) Weigh up the financial and emotional advantages of each offer?
c) Sign for Inter, get a whopping signing-on fee and the Scudetto on a plate?

What your answers say about you...
Mostly A - Ma sei proprio inglese! You have a lot to learn about the levels of cynicism, pettiness and stupidity needed to follow Serie A.
Mostly B - Mica male. You are quite a balanced individual who loves their sport but not to excess.
Mostly C - Benvenuto al calcio! You are totally bonkers and would happily watch 38 replays from different angles of a controversial penalty decision in order to discuss the incident for another three hours. Welcome to the club.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

An almost perfect Christmas

After moaning about the late goals, only fair to say Saturday was stupendous. Fiorentina drubbed Messina 4-0 with some cracking goals from Toni, Potenza, Liverani and Mutu. Celtic saw off Falkirk (might not have been the best game for Neil Lennon) and the mighty Queen of the South defeated Livingston to get of the bottom of division one.

A perfect way to go into Christmas, Queens safe (for the time being), Celtic miles clear and the Viola with maybe, just maybe a shot at Europe after starting off from minus 15!

Buon Natale to everyone...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The weekend of the late goal

Sometimes you get a weekend where things just go wrong for all the teams you take an interest in. How about this one?

Queen of the South in desperate need of the points to drag themselves off the bottom of Scottish Division One are leading 1-0 until the 88th minute. Then they lose a goal to Airdrie United which means they fail to leapfrog them in the table.

Then, Fiorentina lead Milan with minutes to go and are about to perform a similar leapfrog manoeuvre when Gilardino strikes back to keep us behind the Rossoneri.

Finally, Celtic are winning the Old Firm game (should have been two up, usual cast-iron penalty turned down) when a deflected shot gives Rangers a share of the spoils. Probably the least painful one given the gap at the top of the table but still...

Sometimes I wish games were 87 minutes long.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The crazy world of Berlusconi

Everyone knows that Silvio Berlusconi is prone to the odd crazy outburst but his latest tirade against dearly (very dearly, £30m) departed Sheva is positively cuckoo.

"He is his wife's puppy!" he howled, or words to that effect. "A real man and Milanista would never have done such a thing. In my house I'm in charge. Sheva, however, when his wife calls to send him under the bed, runs along like a puppy!"

I think we can probably rule out a return to Milan in January, then. Unless, of course, Mrs Shevchenko has other ideas and throws in a doggy biscuit to clinch the deal. "Here boy! Here boy!"
Mind you, based on the evidence (above) how many of us would actually blame old Sheva anyway?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Place your bets now please...

The time is almost nigh for our Italian trio - Inter, Milan and Roma - to find their fate in the Champions League. Only the Rossoneri go in as group winners and a whole host of interesting possibilities lie in store. Certainly, there are very few easy draws out there.

The chances must be good of an Anglo-Italian clash with a Italo-Scottish clash not off the agenda as Milan v Celtic is a possibility. Who would we like to get? Who would we like to avoid? I would settle for the following...

Roma v Liverpool, Inter v Arsenal, Porto v Milan, Celtic v Valencia, Barcelona v Man Utd, Real Madrid v Chelsea, Lille v Bayern Munich, PSV v Lyon. Or something like that if it is possible. How many do you reckon out of eight?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Incredible at the Olimpico

I can honestly say if you had told me after half an hour of the Rome derby that Lazio would win 3-0 I would have thought you were having a laugh. So much so that I even risked a few hard earned pounds on a Giallorosso triumph. They were passing the ball well, creating chances - it looked only a matter of time until they went ahead.

Then Cristian Ledesma struck a thunderbolt shot that gave Lazio the lead and the whole Roma edifice seemed to crumble. A blunder from the ridiculous Phillipe Mexes helped to gift a penalty. Then the dubious decision to send on Vucinic (what has Montella done to be ignored in his favour?) and throw caution to the wind left gaping gaps in the Roma defence. It could have been an even heavier defeat in the end, which seemed impossible given the class gulf between the sides.

The result puts Lazio in the running for a Champions League spot while just about killing off Roma's Scudetto hopes. That's a shame as I would like to see somebody put some pressure on Inter. But it looks like they are too powerful for anybody to seriously challenge. I never thought I would be saying that about Inter.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Trains, rains and Luca Toni

Well, it turned out to be one of the strangest Sundays on record in my time tracking the Viola. Our first plan was that myself and my father would drive to Lucca, catch a train to Florence and watch the boys. Train strike, however, so no go on that front.

So, the day dawned and about 11am in our little Tuscan village base everything looked set fair. Until we set out on the car journey. With every passing mile the fog intensified and the rain got heavier. The conversation went something like this.

Dad: "This is awful."
Me: "Too true."
Dad: "Be even worse later on."
Me: "Too right!"
Dad: "Don't think I could face driving home in this."
Me: "Me neither."
Dad: "Will we just go to the Pozzo and have a slap-up lunch and watch it on telly?"
Sound of brakes as car turns around to head back to the heart of the Garfagnana.

So, we never made it to the game but ate and drank like lords instead. In our local bar some scemi wanted to watch Cagliari-Milan so we ended up in a friend's house just in time to see Toni strike. Happily, we didn't miss a classic but the three points were vital. As the night got even more miserable I think we realised we had made the right decision to stay put. And another cracking meal with a good bottle of red made the case all the more convincing.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Franchi, my dear...

The time fast approaches when I make my annual voyage to old Firenze to watch the boys in purple give me heart failure. After twice taking in the Fiorentina-Milan game (one win, one defeat) it is time to face up to Lazio. It is the battle of two of the teams penalised at the start of the season, although the Laziali got off a lot more lightly than us.

Much of the day will be spent in nervous anticipation. A meal nearby and then into the ground far too early. Three points would be a great tonic, my overall record at the Franchi is not too bad, especially given I generally pick one of the tougher opponents. I've seen more wins than losses which is a pretty decent return for a club that has given its fans as much heartache as the Viola.

Still, I fear Lazio's form is better than ours and if they can sneak in front that wee Rocchi man can hurt us on the break. On the other hand, in front of the Fiesole many a better team than Delio Rossi's side has been defeated. Here's hoping - I'll say 3-1 with goals from Toni, Montolivo and lucky mascot Jorgensen.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A change of look

I thought it was time for a bit of a change as I never really liked the old look. Inspired by the confirmation that Cannavaro had been crowned Balon d'or - take that Frenchies - I finally found the energy to shift things around. I'd still like to customise it a bit more (especially the banner) but I'm not sure if my blogging skills are quite up to it. Anyone who has any advice it will be gratefully received.

Anyway, it is time to go and watch the second half of Brescia v Milan in the Coppa Italia. Yes, I am that sad...

Monday, November 27, 2006

Bad night at the Barbera

The scene was set, the beers were in, the television primed and ready to go. The build-up impressive, the supporters choreography cracking and the general buzz outstanding. Then play got under way in the Palermo v Inter match.

It is hard to explain why I was so disappointed in this would-be clash of the titans. It was clear from the outset, with a cagey 3-5-1-1 formation that the Rosanero were scared. For most of the first half either Inter were very good or Palermo stood back and watched them, depending on your viewpoint. Still, it took a howler from Inter old boy Alberto Fontana to give the Nerazzurri the lead. Then, amazingly, the well-kept-quiet Amauri scored a scorcher with the outside of the boot to level matters.

That should have sparked a cracking second half but instead Inter took control again with Guidolin's men still surprisingly submissive. It was no surprise when Patrick Vieira thumped home the winner. The only shock was that a late header against the post could have salvaged an ill-deserved draw for the home team.

It looked to me like a medium-sized team struggling to cope with being in a league winning position. It was almost as if they would have been happier being a bit further down the table. All hope of Inter not winning the Scudetto is now officially in Roma's hands who scored goal of the week through Francesco Totti at the weekend.

Friday, November 24, 2006

At last, some good news for Milan

In a season of shaky form and dodgy results at last the Rossoneri have received some good news. Ropey Brazilian goalkeeper Dida is out for three months injured. Without being too harsh on old Duda, apart from one great season he has always looked prone to error. In comes big Kalac for the time being with Marco Amelia lined up for a January swoop along with a decent striker, surely.

This is a big weekend for Serie A with Palermo and Inter going head to head on Sunday night. I'd like to see the Rosanero win it, mostly just to keep the league open. However, a 1-0 Inter sneak job would not surprise me. Hope it's a good game. Main beneficiaries could be Roma who have an easy looking trip to Sampdoria although it is a ground where they have not historically done well. My old Viola have yet another Tuscan derby, this time away to Siena - a week before I watch them in person taking on Lazio.

Finally, I made some money backing Fenerbahce to beat Palermo last night. If there is one thing you can guarantee it is that an Italian team won't let you down to lose in Europe when a big league game is round the corner. Especially when they field their boys team.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Not only in Italy...

Bremen, Germany - The Champions League reaches its closing stages with Chelsea needing just a draw to get through. Or, indeed, a defeat would actually still see them qualify - as long as it is by a single goal. And those three points for the Germans would allow them to take on Barcelona needing just a draw to get through themselves. The final result? Miracolo, 1-0 to Werder...

Jose Mourinho, the world's greatest wind-up merchant, said before the game that he only played to lose against his children. In that case, it was a masterstroke by Bremen to find 11 of his infants out there.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Grande Capitano!

It might seem all I do is moan and groan here about the lack of recognition for Italian football. So, it is only fair to spend a few words in tribute to Fabio Cannavaro winning the Pallone d'Oro.

I don't think anybody who watched the World Cup could deny he was our most influential player (close-run thing with Buffon). His timing was amazing, his leap for such a small guy and his sheer guts and determination so typical of the team. I think his defining moment was when he won the ball and drove forward for the second goal against Germany in the semi-final.

Here's hoping he can get out of Madrid soon, come home to Napoli and Serie A and end his career in style. Grazie Capitano!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Inter - the new Juve?

With the Bianconeri safely shunted down to Serie B somebody had to take on the role of pantomime villain in the top division. After watching their late show against a battling Parma side, could it actually be Inter?

How ironic it would be after all their bickering and moaning and dossier compiling over the years if the Nerazzurri were to turn into their arch-enemies. The first thing they have done is sign up a couple of Juve's more objectionable players - Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Patrick Vieira. Ibra's goal celebrations are the kind of thing that would make even a mild-mannered father of two (never mind me!) leap up and try to slap his face through the television. While Vieira's mastery of the elbow, shunt, kick and trip are second to none.

Now, however, Inter also seem to have added the 'Culo' factor so long thought to be the reserve of the residents of Turin. Up pops Julio Cruz after a good save by De Lucia to give them three points they scarcely deserved. And Maicon's celebrations, goading the Parma fans, were something we could all have lived without.

Maybe you always need a baddy. Maybe a team that wins a lot just becomes dislikeable. Inter should win the league this season by a mile but I am becoming more and more convinced that I would really rather they didn't. It used to be "Tutta l'Italia contro la Juve" but I suspect most of Italy - especially juventini - would like to see Inter contrive to lose out somehow this year.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A strange night

All credit to Roma for overwhelming the Viola in the second half on Sunday night but it was a strange night from a purple perspective. We started off so well that even the absence of Toni was hardly noticed. But in the second half we were a different team.

A lot of the honour has to go to the Giallorossi who came out transformed but just the same I was disappointed with my boys. Reginaldo looked a bit out of his depth and we were a bit unfortunate with deflections that ended up at Taddei's feet but it was still a worrying display. Still, I guess Atalanta this weekend is more what I should be worried about and the pursuit of points to get us off this darned zero...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Kaka - simply the best?

Following his virtuoso performance against Anderlecht on Wednesday night the question has to be asked. Is Milan's Kaka the best player in the world at the moment?

OK, his World Cup displays were poor but the whole Brazil team was unimpressive there and many players played out of position. With the Rossoneri, he has been breathtaking for a while and last night was outstanding. He is one of the very few people in the game who really makes you sit up and take notice - and he does it very regularly. The way he spins round a marker in particular is truly outstanding.

I can't think of anyone playing better at the moment. Is there anybody else out there who can?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Blatter must go ... and faith in calcio restored

Even in the great anti-Italian world of Sepp Blatter he has hit new depths. The FIFA chief has apparently apologised to Australian fans for their country's elimination at the World Cup. He says the penalty on Grosso was a refereeing mistake (fair enough, though softer have been given) and that the Socceroos would probably have gone through in extra time (very debatable and conveniently ignoring the fact that Materazzi hardly deserved his straight red).


Apparently FIFA have now issued a statement saying he has been misreported but, let's face it, it is hardly out of character. I don't remember any apology to Spain and Italy after the crazy decisions in 2002.

On a happier note, I watched two cracking adverts for the Italian game at the weekend. The Milan derby was an absolutely gripping spectacle - not just for the seven goals but for the sheer drama. Then I watched my beloved Viola go down 3-2 in another memorable match at home to Palermo. We scarcely deserved to be held to a draw, never mind lose. Still, pazienza, we are playing well. Great game. Maybe it's going to be a good Serie A season after all...

Friday, October 27, 2006

Tonight is the night...

The verdict is set to be delivered tonight on any reduction of the points penalties inflicted on Milan, Juve, Lazio and Fiorentina. It is a totally unsatisfactory situation but it will have a major impact on the league table.

Juve's Serie B procession could be made a lot easier, Milan might come back into the Scudetto hunt and Lazio and Fiorentina might have a better chance of avoiding relegation. It proves, once again, that the game would be a whole lot better if everything could be decided on the pitch.

Still, I won't be complaining if the Viola get back into positive figures.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A grim affair?

Well, is it or isn't it? I can't make up my mind whether this is the most exciting title race for years or the most boring. The weekend has me leaning towards the latter although that would be pretty unfair on Palermo's historic win at Milan.

There have probably never been so many teams so closely piled together at the top of the table so, in some ways, that makes for excitement. But if you watched Udinese against Inter and a couple of Roma's recent struggles you would be hard pushed to work up much enthusiasm. Is it just me, or do we maybe miss Juve?

I mean, no offence to them, but seeing Udinese, Livorno, Siena, Atalanta and the rest up at the top end is refreshing in some ways but it doesn't exactly smack of quality does it? I tend to think the quality of football has been diminished by taking away one of our great sides and handicapping another three big sides with whacking points penalties. Perhaps it is just the sour grapes of a Viola man who is now working out that his team would be in third place without its points handicap (admittedly that would probably be fourth if Juve were still in things).

So, an open question - is this an exciting, open league or has the whole Calciopoli thing dragged down the standards significantly? Or maybe both?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Tonight, we are all Amaranto

Ladies and gentlemen, for those of us brought up north of the border and with all that following football up here entails, tonight is a special one. All Italo-British clashes are emotional occasions for me but a clash with the boys from Ibrox is particularly keenly felt.

I don't care about the whole religious thing and am not particularly fanatical about the other half of the Old Firm. However, personal experience makes it impossible not to hope Lucarelli and Company give the Rangers a roasting. I have visited Ibrox a few times and been called an "Effing Tally" often enough to want the boys from Leghorn to win this one in style.

What are the chances? Rangers come to the game in truly awful form while Livorno could hardly be playing better. In addition, I saw somewhere that the boys in Blue have only managed one draw and nine defeats in ten previous visits to Italy. Although, these UEFA group games leave me cold, I have to say. Four matches to knock two teams out of a five side group - how dull is that? That old mad dog Aldo Spinelli was right when he said the UEFA Cup meant something when he was President at Genoa but it has become a joke now.

Still, despite my natural aversion to all Tuscan teams outside of Florence I will be at the Armando Picchi in spirit tonight. Then it's time to turn my attentions to the battle of the minus signs on Sunday when Fiorentina take on Reggina.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Back and angry...

Let me vent my anger over the latest issue which is blighting Italian and world football and really starting to bug me - namely face-clutching. I watched a bit of the Siena v Messina game on Saturday night and they were at it there. I recently saw Willy Sagnol get Fabio Grosso sent off with a similar action. And it seems to go on as a matter of routine in almost every match staged across the continent at the highest level.

You know what I am talking about. Somebody gently brushes a player with his left pinky somewhere within three feet of his nose. Then the player "struck" goes down as if his cheekbone was fractured in 12 places. The red/yellow card is brandished and the "offender" suffers while the "victim" is back up and playing in seconds.

It is something which annoys me on a number of levels. At the very least it slows up play as any decent referee has to stop play for a supposed head knock. It is a pathetic attempt to land a fellow pro in trouble. But most of all there appears to be no sanction against anyone who is clearly play-acting. "Simulation" to try to get a penalty often earns a yellow card, I think this kind of feeble falling down should also earn a card to try to cut it out. Otherwise, I seem to be seeing it about three or four times in every match these days.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


OK, so it wasn't vintage by any standards but it was still good to get the ball rolling with three points against the Ukraine. And what a strike from Toni, quite similar to the one he belted in for the Viola a week earlier. Didn't understand the use of Del P (I feel his day is done at Nazionale level) or Iaquinta (I feel his day should never have come at Nazionale level). Still, it put me in a better frame of mind for Georgia.

Cracking result for Scotland but not sure whether it was good or bad for overall Italian qualification. The bottom line, however, is always to focus on your own results. Another win on Wednesday night and we would be right back in the hunt for a top two spot. Anything less than a win, however, would undo the positive feelings I have right now.

I have to confess here and now that my vision of the Ukraine game was severely impaired by my own stupidity. I forgot that my wife had invited friends round for whom I cooked a lovely meal (stuffed peppers followed by linguine with king prawns). However, it meant my overall game view was very limited. And I may have done even worse for Wednesday having booked to go away on holiday with the family. Chances of holiday park showing Georgia v Italy over Croatia v England or Ukraine v Scotland? Less than nil. I will be with the boys in spirit and regularly checking on ceefax, WAP or with my cousins...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

What have we done to make them so disrespectful?

OK, OK, I know the World Cup is over but just the same you would think it would have earned Italy some RESPECT!

Firstly you have Paul Hartley saying that the Azzurri might have won the World Cup but everybody knows France are the better team. Bite the tongue, I told myself, take it on the chin. Silly wee Hearts man.

But then you get Oleg Blokhin saying he expects to beat Italy this weekend. Now that's taking things too far. Did he miss the Mondiale? Has he forgotten the beating his boys took? Does being champions of the world count for nothing? (I don't know what the blogging equivalent of grabbing your balls and pulling a Sylvester Stallone type pose is but I am doing it now).

I demand RESPECT for the Azzurri and I demand it now. We are four times world champions, a couple of times finalists, always near the top of the Euro tree. We are right up there side by side with Brazil. So give us some RISPETTO!

...And let's beat Ukraine and Georgia please!!!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Back to Del Piero...

More than one quizzical eyebrow has been raised at Roberto Donadoni's call-ups for the crunch Euro qualifying clash with the Ukraine. Alberto Gilardino and Antonio Cassano are the biggest name casualties from his first competitive clashes - seemingly sacrificed to make room for Luca Toni and Alex Del Piero.

The move smacks a little bit of uncertainty from the new boss. Why call up Cassano in the first place only to dump him this time? While Gilardino is crying out for somebody to show a bit of faith in him having been questioned at both club and country level for no good reason. It is surprising to see Del P back in the squad while nobody doubts Toni deserves his spot after the cracker he scored on Sunday. Still, judgment reserved until after the game.

On the league front it is Palermo and Roma who go into the national break on top after Inter's slip up at Cagliari. Neither side sparkled at the weekend but it is shaping up like an amazingly exciting campaign. The door is open for a real surprise Scudetto winner, is anybody prepared to take the chance?

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Povero Toro!

I would freely admit I have a soft spot for Torino. Maybe it is their dislike of Juve, maybe it is their tragic history (Superga, Gigi Meroni etc) or maybe it is just the colour of their strips. Whatever it is, it never seems like a proper Serie A season without them.

But, boy oh boy, did they take one hell of a beating on Saturday night. 4-0 going on 8-0 by Lazio. They held on reasonably for a half but once they went behind, the floodgates opened. Maybe their President, Mr Urbano Cairo, will be having a few regrets about sacking the Coach who got them promoted a few days before the season started to bring in Alberto Zaccheroni. If you too thought that Zac's day was done it was proved in spades in front of the long-suffering Granata support.

The team clearly don't want to play for him because, although they are bad, they are not that bad. They desperately need a striker and a way to get the best out of undoubtedly talented players like Rosina and Fiore. Otherwise, they might pass Juve coming up as they head straight back down to Serie B.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

We are not alone...

So, we stood and took it for most of the summer about how we were the most corrupt league in the world, the shame of our top teams, the scandal that was Serie A. Well, ladies and gentlemen, it's time for a little payback.

Tune yourselves in to Panorama tonight and find out how many Premiership managers like a bung. That is to say, a little sweetener of cash for their pocket to clinch major transfer deals. It appears we are not talking, as in Italy, the simple use of influence but rather the more grubby subject of cold, hard notes. The results of a full inquiry are expected out early next month.

What can we expect? Managers banned, teams relegated, points deductions? Probably not. More likely the sound of the old carpet being lifted and a judicious bit of sweeping...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Some surprises - and Inter...

In the end it was only Inter who let down Italy in Europe in the Champs League. I made the mistake of watching their clash with Sporting Lisbon not Roma's impressive 4-0 victory over Donetsk. It was drab, dull and uninspiring as Inter have often treated us to in Europe. The Giallorossi, by all accounts, took their time to break down their opponents but when they did - they did it in some style.

As for Milan, they looked pretty good and I was particularly impressed by Gourcuff or however it is spelled. Oliveira looked less stellar but luckily for the Rossoneri old Pippo was in full swing.

Now bring on the UEFA!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Champions apprehension

I dont think I ever approached the Champs League with a greater sense of concern. I really struggle to see Italian teams making any impact this year.

Roma struggled last season with the double burden of league and UEFA Cup so don't look to have a squad ready for the top competition. Milan will be totally focussed on getting their points back in Serie A. And Inter, well Inter just always let us down.

With Chievo gone already and our UEFA contingent looking modest too, I fear there are a couple of lean years ahead. Or am I just too pessimistic?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Bring it on

Well, it hardly seems like yesterday we were beating France to win the World Cup and it is back into action against the old enemy on Wednesday night. There has been a lot of nonsense spouted about the game but I think most of it has been sour grapes on the French front. I hope that Italy don't rise to that particular bait and just concentrate on playing football.

I was actually happy enough with the Lithuania game - apart from the result. I thought there was some good enterprise shown and Cassano was outstanding. Also Gattuso, Pirlo and Cannavaro have grown even more in stature with the World Cup win. However, there were a few worrying gaps at the back and I think we might be better advised to bring Zambro back against France and maybe consider a more prudent 4-4-2 (with Cassano behind front two if we want to be adventurous).

Anyway, here's hoping we beat them fair and square (again) and stop them crying into their chardonnay...

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The shape of things to come?

Phew, if the Italian Supercup is anything to go by we could be in for quite a season despite all the scandal that has preceded it. Roma go three goals up, Inter fight back and win it in extra time. Not bad entertainment value from the two teams most touted to win the Scudetto this year.

I think it could be a really open fight with so many teams trying to make up points and without a real dominant force like Juve. In theory, Inter should probably stroll to the title but somehow that just doesn't seem likely to me. They were strong already and have brought in a lot of good players. But, remember, Inter are still Inter and could probably lose an egg and spoon race to a man with the shakes. That makes for an exciting league.

Just can't wait now for the court rumbles to be over with and get back into action. Also intrigued to see how Cassano gets on for Italy having been brought in from the cold. I'm a bit worried about Lithuania and France in the post-World Cup haze. If Donadoni can get the team properly motivated he will have performed a miracle.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Let it go, let it go...

I know I have never been known for my pro-Juventus leanings but they are starting to slip even further in my estimation with their unwillingness to accept their punishment and get on with Serie B. Not only has this protracted fight dragged Italian football through the mire, it is also threatening to see the Serie A season delayed further AND see action taken against the whole Italian football federation.

In the end, we could all sit and debate who deserved to be punished more or less by the Calciopoli scandal. In some ways Juve were hard done by but in others they got off quite lightly. Seeking a solution at the regional court of Lazio is, to my mind, taking things too far. It's time to move on and if that means the Bianconeri in Serie B, so be it. I hope their request is thrown out and I can actually get on with writing about football.

Watched Chievo go out the other night to Levski Doodah in the Champs League qualifier. I know that the Viola were going out to Genoa in the cup at the same time but I still think we could have been in the group stage draw which took place yesterday. Just bought my copy of Champions magazine which is full of stuff on Luca Toni and Cesare Prandelli. It will be a collectors item one day. In the meantime, it will be at least another two seasons before that dream comes true. If Fiorentina, Lazio, etc have to get on with it, then why can't Juve?

Finally, sad to see Oba Oba Martins leave Inter. He was always one of my preferred players in a team that I didn't have too much time for. I reckon he could score a lot of goals in England...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Have they taken leave of their senses?

I know that nothing should really surprise me now but just the same I have been taken aback by recent TV reports and stories I have seen on Italian football websites of some repute (and now here, too). There are transfer stories that shock you (Mo Johnston to Rangers), stun you (Luther Blissett to Milan) or just downright make you laugh (Steve Staunton being linked to a Serie A move springs to mind). But my mixture of revulsion, hilarity and disbelief has rarely been so great as when I read...

Milan want to buy Ronaldo

Is this the same tubby-guts, lackadaisical, unimpressive hitman we watched slump out of the World Cup this summer? Apparently so. But why? Why? Why? Why? (Is that enough) do Milan want to sign him? I know they have lost Sheva but this is such a backward step they might as well snap up Gazza, Gunnar Nordahl and Silvio Piola at the same time. Apparently, Inter are even thinking of intervening to spoil their plans. Madness, sheer madness.

Surely a young up and coming striker, maybe even an Italian, would be better than the man who can no longer get off the ground. Or am I being too harsh?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Return of the champs

OK, we all enjoyed the summer but it's time to get back down to business with the first friendly of the Donadoni era. I admit it, the thought of seeing a squad including, I think, one World Cup winner (Amelia) doesn't exactly fill me with joy. But, still, the Azzurri are the Azzurri and the last time I missed a game was when I was wearing nappies (yes, it was six months ago but that was just a phase, honest).

Apparently there was a joke in the Gazzetta the other day about Dona's first squad, it said, more or less: "Donadoni has announced his first squad it contains: 7 debutants, 5 Sampdoriani, 3 dentists, two folk singers, one pensioner and three of his neighbours..." Nice one.

Still, interesting to see just how we get on and plenty of interest for a Viola man with a lot of our current and past players in the squad. I just hope it's not too embarrassing but then, Lippi started with a bad loss to Iceland.

Will also try to watch the Under 21s tonight and see what Gigi Casiraghi can come up with. That's a strange managerial selection indeed. However, if he gets the wins, you won't find me complaining. And, you know what, whatever happens we are STILL WORLD CHAMPIONS!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Milan miss Sheva...

They might protest to the contrary but Milan could desperately do with a striker to replace Shevchenko if last night's Champs League efforts are anything to go by. The Rossoneri looked good until the final third but only that old stager Inzaghi could find the net. It is early days of course but they looked more in need of Ibrahimovic than neighbours Inter who have clinched his signature. Still, there is plenty of time for a deal to be put together, I guess. Otherwise, they will struggle more than I thought to make up ground in Serie A.

Spare a thought for little Chievo too beaten 2-0 by Levski Sofia in their Champions League debut. Expectations were low for the Veronese but they will have their work cut out to turn things around. I couldn't help looking at the fixture and thinking that should have been Fiorentina, that should have been Fiorentina...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Is it that time again?

It hardly seems like the grappa, spumante, chianti and montepulciano have had time to settle in my bloodstream after the World Cup and we are back into Euro action. Milan and little Chievo in the Champs League. I have pretty much written off the continental competitions this year given the loss of three of our better sides. Still, maybe I can be proved wrong.

On other notes, it looks like Luca Toni is going to stay put in Florence. I am never sure how much players want to leave and how much is stirred up by agents, newspapers and other clubs. However, it can't be denied that 30 goals a season would have left a big hole in the Viola attack. They need all the points they can get starting 19 down on the competition.

Finally, I wouldn't rule out Milan from the Scudetto reckoning just because they are starting with a points penalty. Bigger gaps have been made up in the past and even though Inter have got a title under their belt AND bought up all the best players in Italy they still never convince me. The only other contenders are Roma who might finally have some strikers to pick and are able to sign new people to the cause. It will be an odd year but definitely and exciting one - looking forward to seeing Juve, Genoa, Napoli, Bologna and other big guns fight it out in Serie B too...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The strangest Scudetto

So Inter have their 14th league title, in the most bizarre manner imagineable. Having finished third in Serie A they saw all their nearest rivals penalised and won it more than a month after the season ended. Never before has it happened in Italian football - the last time a team had its title revoked (Torino back in the 1920s) it was simply not assigned. So, is there really any glory for Inter?

On the one hand, why shouldn't they have it? If they were the only clean ones in the top four then the title should be theirs. On the other hand, it can never be known how the league would have finished without all the alleged piloting of referees. And after such a long wait, would you really want to win the Scudetto that way?

I can see that as a fan you would want a title any way you could get it. Nonetheless, I still think there must be a bit of an odd flavour to the celebrations. I reckon most true Nerazzurri would give up ten titles won in this manner for one won on the pitch without sporting justice's intervention. They can protest all they like but it is a bit of a tarnished trophy. That will fade with time, of course, but still the Scudetto 2006 will remain one of the strangest in Italian football history.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

One degree of separation

My recent trip to Italy - to receive a little medal from my family's home town of Barga - was given a bit of added pleasure by the fact that I got my hands on the World Cup. Well, almost.

One of my fellow award recipients was none other than Enrico Castellacci, the Italian team doctor and probably the most famous set of baffi in football. I couldn't miss the chance to get my picture taken with a man who only a couple of weeks earlier held the Coppa del Mondo. Of course, he said meeting me was right up there with winning the tournament...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Quelle surprise!

Zinedine Zidane gives a headbutt, three-match ban. Marco Materazzi, receives a headbutt, two-match ban. This is how justice works at FIFA. I honestly think if they could come up with a way to strip Italy of the World Cup they would. The whole organisation needs to be looked at.

What message does this send out to players? Dish out a few insults or clobber an opponent, it's all the same. If it's going to start a grass roots weeding out of all players who verbally provoke opponents then fair enough. But I reckon your average game would finish about three against three.

It smacks more of something they felt they had to do to justify giving Zidane the Golden Ball thing. Anyway, I'm off to Italy for a few days to fume. Catch up with you all soon!

Monday, July 17, 2006

A week is a long time

Last Monday I was still recovering from my World Cup winning hangover, basking in the glory of the Azzurri's triumph. In the space of seven hectic days the world of Italian football has been turned on its head. In all the time I've followed the game I can't think of more dramatic times. I need to get a few things straight in my head.

1) Marcello Lippi has stood down as Italy boss (can't say I blame him, only way was down).

2) Roberto Donadoni has been appointed the new CT (exciting, if risky appointment).

3) Zinedine Zidane and Marco Materazzi have been called before FIFA (quite right in the first instance, a nonsense in the second. No amount of provocation justifies Zizou's act).

4) Juve, Lazio and Fiorentina have been banished to Serie B. Juve stripped of two titles and Milan dumped down Serie A with a 15 point penalty to start the next campaign.

A couple of thoughts spring to mind on the Calciopoli thing. Firstly, from a purely Viola standpoint, it hardly seems fair that Fiorentina were hit just about as hard as Juve when it was the Bianconeri who allegedly ran the whole system - often to the Viola's detriment.

Secondly, it makes Serie B a hell of tough league next season. My estimate puts it at about 50 scudetti between teams in that division. Juve (27), Genoa (9), Bologna (7), Napoli (2), Fiorentina (2), Lazio (2) and Verona (1). Have I missed anyone out?

Finally, will Inter finally be able to win the league or will they manage to find somebody to beat them again? Probably Roma...

And even more finally, I hope there is not a mass exodus of our best players out of Italy. It would be truly awful to see some of our World Cup heroes end up playing in England.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Grazie Paul Newman!

So, Marcello is gone. It really shouldn't surprise anyone because how could he cap what has been a glorious couple of years? A record of just two defeats in 29 games (one of them a friendly) is completely unprecedented. The only way was down with a number of our elder statesmen likely to step down.

It's a shame that external matters seem to have played a part once again. Criticism of his managerial qualities (he could only succeed at Juve and that kind of thing) as well as the allegations against his agent son put him under unfair pressure. One thing is for sure, he goes straight into the hall of all-time greats.

I always liked his straight-talking, ballsy attitude in interviews. He was willing to disagree strongly with pundits, show a sense of humour and try to ignore their attempts to stir up scandal. He brought together a team which, let's be honest, few thought could actually win the World Cup and took off the ultimate prize. For that reason alone he stands among the greats.

Addio, Marcello. Enjoy all the cigars you like and a great summer in Viareggio. You deserve your place beside Bearzot and Pozzo...

Monday, July 10, 2006

Campioni del mondo!

Yes, read that title. Read it again. Then read it once more. Then go, make the coffee, put your feet up and read it again. Then phone up all your friends and tell them. It is true, Italy are world champions.

It was a rollercoaster, especially last night. A goal down so soon, back on terms through big Marco, then a few good chances before falling a bit onto the backfoot. A goal disallowed, more penalty shouts and then THAT headbutt. And finally, victory ... on penalties! Five great penalties. That Trez missed his only made it sweeter but our boys kept their cool marvellously well.

I will blog some more about this in due course, no doubt. Indeed, I may blog about nothing else for the next four years. Savour it, tifosi, all the heartache has been worthwhile...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Il sogno continua...

Fratelli e sorelle d'Italia, it has taken me a couple of days to come to terms with what I witnessed on Tuesday night. Right up there with Brazil 1982, West Germany 1970 and maybe the backs to the wall Holland win in Euro 2000 came THAT amazing display. Even as I type, I struggle to come up with words to do it justice.

Cannavaro maintained his claim to player of the tournament, Buffon was impeccable as always, even Materazzi won my heart. Nobody in the world can have better attacking full-backs than Zambrotta and Grosso who played fantastically. The midfield was strong in the first half and when it faded a bit, Lippi made the right changes. Gattuso gave everything, Perrotta had one great chance, Pirlo kept us ticking, Totti is improving with every game, Toni worked tirelessly. Only Camoranesi still frustrated me but, on such a night, let's not pick flaws.

And what about the goals? The first one was pure Marco Tardelli stuff, even Grosso's celebration brought the same goose-bump feeling. And Del P was like the Del P of his boyhood brilliance as he sped the length of the pitch to ping the ball home. Lovely set up by Gila too.

There's one more hurdle to overcome, the French. No doubt they are a strong side with plenty of individuals worthy of respect but we've built up such a momentum we'll be hard to stop now. If we can keep up the team spirit, concentration and quality we have shown this far then, as Il Messaggero apparently proclaimed, "Not even the Martians can beat us!".

Here's hoping ragazzi. Keep the faith, no doubts and go for it!

Monday, July 03, 2006

We're in business

Come what may, the Azzurri have brought back a bit of respect to Italian football over the past few weeks. If they pull off a win against Germany, the job would be even better. Still, to get to the World Cup semi-final is back to the business end of football's biggest competition which is somewhere we have not been for 12 years.

The win over Ukraine was impressive with Toni among the goals, Totti pulling the strings and that defence truly breathtaking (especially the Juve connection Cannavaro, Buffon and Zambrotta). What you've got to like about this team is its spirit - typified by Gattuso but carried on by everyone in the side. All the old debates like Baggio/Zola, Totti/Del Piero and, for those with longer memories Rivera/Mazzola have been put to one side. There is no outstanding superstar which has made everyone seem happy to work for each other.

There are any number of omens you can take into account. We've not, so far, ever lost a major tie to Germany. The last time four European teams were in the semi-finals was 1982. Paolo Rossi went four games without a goal (like Toni) before ending up top scorer. And so on, and so on.

The biggest factor is that the boys are playing well, improving every game and look desperate to do well. They have earned the right to think they can go all the way and win it. Now wouldn't that be sweet?

Friday, June 30, 2006

Nerves jingling once more

Is there ever a game you can look forward to as an Italy fan? On paper the Ukraine are about the most straightforward opposition in the quarter finals possible. In reality, we all know, it will never be easy. Wouldn't it be great to be three goals to the good by halftime? Dream on.

The toughest job is for Andrea Barzagli to slot in at the centre of the defence, especially with Sheva in the opposition. Still, hopefully Cannavaro - my man of the tournament so far - can give the boy some guidance.

It would certainly be nice to play 11 against 11 too. The worry of supensions is great with Gattuso, Zambrotta and Grosso all on yellow cards. Still, the first thing is to get the win and then bring on Argentina or Germany. I'm getting SO nervous and also SO sick of hearing how lucky we have been. A convincing win would be a truly wonderful thing. But I'll settle for 1-0 with a goal off Inzaghi's ass...

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Quarter-finals, the pundit's guide...

As we reach the last eight of the World Cup here's your guide to the sporting stereotypes going head to head in the closing stages.

Dour Efficiency v Sneaky South Americans
Organised Former Soviets v Cynical Cheating Divers
Brave Lionhearts v Stylish Chokers
Samba Football v End Of An Era

Looking forward to it already...

Monday, June 26, 2006

It's Totti time!

There is pain, there is suffering and then there is watching Italy in the World Cup. It all started off so promisingly against Australia. We were passing it nicely, creating chances and, but for a bit of wonky shooting and a couple of good saves, we should have been ahead at half time. The opposition was without doubt the weakest we have faced so far but, just the same, things looked good.

Then up popped Medina Cantalejo or whatever his name is. Out of nothing he decided to send Materazzi off for what looked only a yellow card foul. I'm not known for defending big Marco but he had had a great game up to then and Zambrotta was on his shoulder to cover so he was clearly not the last man. All that didn't matter of course, and suddenly life got difficult.

If bringing on Iaquinta for Gilardino at half time made little sense before that it made even less after it. To compound the problem, Luca Toni made way for Barzagli in a move that handed the initiative to the Aussies. Iaquinta was incapable of holding the ball up, Del Piero looked exhausted so only Gattuso and, to a lesser extent, Perrotta held the keys to our retaining possession with Pirlo struggling to get on the ball.

The defence held firm and gave away few chances but too often long, hopeful balls ended up at the feet of the Australians. Luckily enough, they didn't have much clue what to do with it.

Then, just when it looked like extra time for sure, old Grosso boy gave a little shimmy to get past a man. Then he dribbled another and from the byeline he dinked past Lucas Neill. Lying on the ground in front of him, the Palermo man went over him and won the penalty. Some have said it was harsh but to me if you block a run, no matter with what part of your body, it's a foul. Ask Paul Lambert on Jorg Albertz about that one - the only man to give away a penalty while being knocked unconscious!

In that situation, deep into injury time, it takes a great player to score a penalty. Make no mistake about that. It seemed to take an age to take the kick and all the time millions of Italians were getting more and more edgy but, thankfully, not the man that mattered. It was just like he was back in the Olimpico with his faithful fans willing him to score.

I would love that to be the moment that kickstarts Totti's World Cup and finally starts to silence the global audience that still thinks he is all about petulance and spitting. If big Toni boy could get a goal soon too we could really have something special. With Buffon, Zambrotta, Cannavaro and Gattuso looking so determined we have a core of a side with a real desire to win.

So we are on to the quarter finals and, all the more sweetly, at the expense of Guus Hiddink. The irony of hearing him moan about refereeing decisions going against him will not have been lost on a lot of people. Remember four years ago Guus? Remember Byron Moreno? We do...

There's a team to be rebuilt for the next round once more. No Materazzi, Nesta a doubt, and Gattuso, Grosso and Zambrotta all one caution away from missing the next match. Lippi seems an edgy man and some of his decisions have been questionable. But he has got us this far, so let's keep the faith and hope we can make one more step come Friday night...

Friday, June 23, 2006

Buongiorno Sport!

Ci siamo. After a less than sparkling but less than awful performance against the Czech Republic we are through on top of the group with a tie against the Aussies in the last 16. There were good and bad parts to the game on Thursday but the biggest laugh, I admit, was Materazzi getting his goal.

In my house, and probably houses around Italy, his introduction for Nesta prompted forlorn cries. We might as well go home now - that was the logic. He'll give away a penalty or get sent off. Instead, he was a candidate for man of the match. And later, as Martino so sagely points out elsewhere, the Pippo Must Go Campaign run here proved to be extremely appropriate.

I thought against ten men we were rarely troubled. Gattuso worked hard, Pirlo got a bit more room and Totti needs a goal or something to get him back to match sharpness. I think Fabio Cannavaro has been my man of the tournament so far, he has blocked shots, anticipated the play and generally done everything asked of him brilliantly. The back line looks at its most solid with Zambo, Grosso, him and Nesta. Buffon was also immense, but we have come to expect that. Hope he's had a wee bet on Italy to win the competition.

Camoranesi was better but still frustrating and Gila pretty anonymous. Perrotta and Barone were pretty steady. I wasnt happy at seeing Toni left out but the ends justify the means.

Now its on to Australia on Monday. The draw has certainly opened up for us but I'm not going to be drawn into that most English pastime of plotting a path to the final. The Aussies are a banana-skin fixture as they are "just happy to be there" while we are expected to win. It sounds like Nesta will miss out which is another worry - big Marco can't play that well again can he? Still, let them stick to cricket and rugby, I say, and let us move on stealthily into the quarter finals. Otherwise I'll be crying in my XXXX.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

To believe or not to believe...

They say the Americans wanted a war on Saturday night and that was certainly how the game ended up. Apart from De Rossi's stupidity I thought we were more sinned against than sinning with our players being pretty much battered from the first whistle. No wonder they ended up with nine men. Unfortunately, we couldn't push on for a winner after Zac's blunder at the back. Now it sets up a horrible Thursday afternoon.

It will be a typical Italy-watching day. Win and we win the group, draw and we still go through, lose and we could still sneak it if USA beat Ghana. Best to concentrate on our own match, of course. The Czechs will be hit hard by the loss of Koller, Ujfalusi and more. Gattuso should make up for the absence of De Rossi. Above all, what would be nice to see is some decent football. I'd hate to watch the boys go out in a World Cup first round - never seen that in my lifetime!

Hope Toni gets a goal to start the ball rolling for him. And hope Nedved doesn't start tumbling all around the pitch. Ragazzi, non deludete!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

First test passed

On the whole the first game against Ghana was a successful one for Italy, not only in terms of result. The defence was solid - with the exception of Grosso who did look like a giraffe on ice from time to time. The midfield was classy - especially when Pirlo got a bit of space to work. Up front big Toni was unlucky not to get his goal and Gila provided decent support.

The biggest disappointment was the quality of the refereeing. How on earth did the Azzurri end up with three bookings when they were kicked, elbowed and shoved around the park all night. I have no gripe with the yellow cards for De Rossi, Camoranesi (no surprise) and Iaquinta but the same rule was not used for Ghana. The fouls on Iaquinta, Totti and Toni (regularly) were awful. I hope those bookings don't cost us later on.

Still, three points are three points and another win over the USA would put the boys in blue in pole position before the final game with the Czechs who looked pretty good.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Keep an ear out

The World Cup kicks off in half an hour with Germany taking on Costa Rica. Amazing to think how no German players now play in Serie A when 20 years ago they were seen as a guarantee of quality. Big Jurgy Klinsmann will be the only tenuous connection with Italy really.

And talking of tenuous connections we always like to give a prize out for the most ridiculous mention of England in connection to a game where they are not playing. Examples of the kind of thing we are looking for are "He's the Ecuadorian Wayne Rooney, you know", "Germany, of course, still haunted by THAT final 40 years ago" and "Zurawski plays in Scotland which, as we all know, is just across the border from England".

I look forward to reading your submissions. Forza Azzurri!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

What have we learned?

As I sit watching Torino fight to get into the Serie B play-off final, I muse over the friendlies of the last few days and how Italy's build-up is going for Germany. I find myself caught in a halfway house between optimism and pessimism. I never expected Italy to sparkle in matches so close to the World Cup and, to be honest, I wouldn't have wanted them to. It's a bit of a waste of time playing great before the tournament proper starts.

I admit, I was worried by the performance of Zaccardo against Switzerland who looked out of his depth. The same could be said for Iaquinta but I have never thought he was really worthy of the Nazionale. And as for Materazzi, well, enough said.

It was a good workout for Totti who looked to be heading in the right direction but I am worried about Pirlo. His form has dipped a lot and he is vital to our team play. Best players looked to me to be Cannavaro (who was in outstanding form) and probably De Rossi (ready to battle hard). A strike force of Gilardino and Toni looks powerful. The first choice defence is solid. It's a question of hitting form now.

With just a few days to go, everything still has to click into place but we don't look too bad. Be nice to win the group, then the draw opens up for us. But I can't believe old Italia will let us have it so easy...

Friday, May 26, 2006

Don't mention the WaR...

With the World Cup fast approaching, expecting a flurry of blogging in the days ahead but, we promise you we won't be mentioning that chubby cheeked Man Utd striker with the dodgy foot. As the perfect antedote to wall-to-wall metatarsal discussions you will find no mention of him here. Guaranteed. Indeed, the only Rooney we recognise is Mickey the star of so many legendary musicals.

Instead, here's your guide to the top ten scapegoats for England's World Cup exit. Following in the footsteps of Peter Bonetti, Chris Waddle, David Beckham etc there has never been a tourney they have gone out of that there hasn't been somebody to blame. Otherwise, of course, they would have been world and European champions countless times. The top ten scapegoats we forecast for the summer are:

1) Sir Alex Ferguson.
2) Sven Goran Eriksson.
3) Peter Crouch.
4) Peter Crouch.
5) Peter Crouch.
6) The star player caught drinking dodgy German beer out of a brassiere.
7) Posh Spice.
8) The damaging reperations exacted on Germany at the Treaty of Versailles.
9) Asylum seekers.
10) Somebody Argentinian.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Scandalous, absolutely scandalous...

A top club manager with a son employed as a football agent, a league where everybody is alleged to like a "bung", regular Asian betting coup scandals - including the match which decided its Champions League places, clubs which spent money on European qualification before it was achieved, managers trying to influence referees... and all the power concentrated in the hands of a few mega rich clubs.

It sounds horrible doesn't it? I don't know how anyone can watch the English Premiership any more...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Did I do wrong?

I admit it, I couldn't bring myself to watch the Champions League final. Firstly, because I can't stand listening to English commentators ramble on about their own teams. And secondly, because I can't stand to hear them going all weak at the knees when Ronaldinho gets the ball.

I can probably guess a few themes running through the punditry. I can't believe they got through the night without mentioning Liverpool in Istanbul. I wouldn't be surprised if they had Ronaldinho's Brazil meeting England in the World Cup final. And I bet it was a shame that Henrik Larsson never tested himself in the Premiership. If I didn't get at least one right out of that I will eat my Fiorentina hat.

In some sections of the media it was billed as the dream final. Although I don't understand quite why. Certainly Barcelona are a powerful side, Liga champions and all that. But Arsenal? They finished fourth in the Premiership. Call me old fashioned but I still like to see a league champion win the top European title.

Of course, this is all sour grapes because no Italian team got there. It's a lot clearer now why Juve are half the team in Europe that they are in Serie A but I think Milan could have competed. There's always next year although lord knows who will be representing us. Roll on the World Cup.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Rinaldi responds to Lippi

Having seen the call-ups for the Italian World Cup squad by his fellow Tuscan Marcello Lippi, a sorry Scottish-Italian blogger has responded with his own 23 for Germany. It is a tradition he has followed for many competitions trying to name a "shadow" squad which he thinks might do pretty well at the competition.

The underlying thought process - if you want to credit him with one - is that it shows the strength in depth Italy possess (or not, depending on your viewpoint). See if you can come up with any players that you would like to have seen in either squad.

Lippi's 23

Portieri: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Angelo Peruzzi (Lazio), Marco Amelia (Livorno).

Difensori: Fabio Cannavaro (Juventus), Alessandro Nesta (Milan), Marco Materazzi (Inter), Andrea Barzagli (Palermo), Gianluca Zambrotta (Juventus) Massimo Oddo (Lazio), Cristian Zaccardo (Palermo), Fabio Grosso (Palermo).

Centrocampisti: Andrea Pirlo (Milan), Gennaro Ivan Gattuso (Milan), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Mauro German Camoranesi (Juventus), Simone Perrotta (Roma), Simone Barone (Palermo).

Attaccanti: Alessandro Del Piero (Juventus), Alberto Gilardino (Milan), Luca Toni (Fiorentina), Filippo Inzaghi (Juventus), Francesco Totti (Roma), Vincenzo Iaquinta (Udinese).

Riserve: Morgan De Sanctis (Udinese), Daniele Bonera (Parma), Franco Semioli (Chievo), Marco Marchionni (Parma).

Rinaldi's 23

Portieri: Francesco Toldo (Inter), Christian Abbiati (Juve/Milan), Carlo Cudicini (Chelsea).

Difensori: Christian Panucci (Roma), Manuel Pasqual (Fiorentina), Paolo Maldini (Milan), Dario Dainelli (Fiorentina), Paolo Cannavaro (Parma), Emiliano Moretti (Valencia), Cesare Bovo (Roma).

Centrocampisti: Christian Brocchi (Fiorentina), Massimo Ambrosini (Milan), Enzo Maresca (Sevilla), Fabio Liverani (Lazio), Stefano Fiore (Fiorentina), Eugenio Corini (Palermo), Alberto Aquilani (Roma).

Attaccanti: Antonio Cassano (Real Madrid), Tommaso Rocchi (Lazio), Cristiano Lucarelli (Livorno), Francesco Tavano (Empoli), Mauro Esposito (Cagliari), Fabrizio Miccoli (Benfica).

Riserve: Francesco Antonioli (Sampdoria), Christian Terlizzi (Palermo), Pasquale Foggia (Ascoli), Massimo Maccarone (Middlesbrough).

For your information, my team plays a very Lippi like 4-3-3 with Toldo in goal, Panucci and Pasqual down the flanks with Dainelli and Maldini in the middle. Brocchi is the midfield battler with Maresca to break forward and Liverani pulling the strings. Cassano and Tavano play off Lucarelli up front. Or any combination you prefer.

A little light relief

In amongst all the angst for the latest scandal to rock Italian football let's take a moment to honour my nomination for best banner of the season. It came on the last day of the campaign at Chievo-Fiorentina and was dedicated to home coach Bepi Pillon who had shaved off his whiskers to celebrate reaching the UEFA Cup.

"Bepi," it said. "My mother-in-law has shaved off her moustache too!"

Maybe not PC, but priceless. Dai, ridiamoci su...

A hollow sound

Even the most ardent Juventino would have to admit it was a sorry end to the Scudetto race on Sunday. Their title celebrations were most definitely overshadowed by events off the pitch. Even the festivities for the 20,000 or so Viola fans who travelled to Chievo to watch them get into the Champions League had a question mark hanging over them. And Lazio, too, must wonder whether they will get their UEFA prize.

The sad fact is that the very thing that most of us joked about for years - that ref's helped out Juve - may well have been true. It really takes the heart out of following Serie A when you hear just how deep the problem is alleged to have gone. I have no great fondness for the Bianconeri but I still want to say "Say it ain't so...".

I don't like the idea of giving out league titles to teams who finished third or whatever other solutions might be proposed. Better that nobody gets the crown and we start again from scratch. The biggest thing is to sort it all out quickly. The longer it drags on, the lower the reputation of Italian football sinks.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Not again...

For seasoned Italian football watchers the latest scandal to rock the game can provoke only one reaction - NOT AGAIN!

It hardly seems that a season can go by without some match-rigging, sporting-fraud, dodgy-dealing claim. With the case of the 'intercepted phone-calls' by Juve top dog Luciano Moggi it looks like some famous names are going to be dragged through the mire once more.

Some big name players have been mentioned as gambling on games. Juventus are the biggest club implicated but Lazio and Fiorentina along with a number of others have been mentioned. There are even suggestions that 29 out of the 38 weeks of last season's campaign were 'falsified' in some way.

My greatest feeling is one of sadness. Particularly on the eve of a World Cup. All this can only destabilise Italy's bid to win in Germany with so many players and teams involved. It should be stressed, at the moment, that all of these charges are no more than accusations. They may, or may not, turn out to be true. But the damage to the reputation of Serie A and Italian football has already been done.

The actual content of the phone calls - from what I have heard of it - was not really that shocking. It appeared to confirm what many of us knew already - that Moggi is an expert in using every means possible to help his team. Maybe it is the regulations that need changed, rather than any great clear-out from the game. On the other hand, Italy being Italy, it looks like more blood-letting is in store and who knows where the casualties might be? If only this could be the last scandal in Calcio but I doubt that will be the case.

Monday, May 08, 2006

I think it's all over

After Sunday's results it's time to admit it. Like it or not (and you know my feelings), Juve will pick up Scudetto 29 in a week's time. They haven't been brilliant but they've been the best over the season. Milan threw in a few too many wobblers throughout the year and Inter - well, let's not even go there.

I just can't see Reggina troubling the Bianconeri. Especially when they have to play the game in Bari and, presumably, with a referee still meeting Mr Moggi's approval (a little bit of politics, eh?). On the evidence of the game against Fiorentina, Reggina are already in "ritiro" with their minds on sun, sand and picking up some TV showgirl. I'm pinning my hopes on the ire of the rejected Nick Amoruso to maybe stick one to his old employers. Although I think the odds should be about 100-1. Still, remember Perugia.

Milan face a much tougher game against Roma but, in the process, they could do Fiorentina a favour. As long as the Rossoneri don't lose - the Viola go into the last Champions League place. That would be a great achievement and, on balance, I think a fair one. The Giallorossi have been brilliant in the second half of the campaign and, if they'd played that way all season, would be worth fourth place easy, maybe even second or third. But, (and I know I'm biased) I think the boys in purple have been more consistently good throughout the season. Still, whoever gets in should be a better representative than Udinese - especially with a little bit of investment.

I could well live without a Premiership style end to proceedings. I hope somebody's watching what they cook for the Fiorentina team in Verona. And no Totti hat-trick for Roma in Milan. Otherwise, I may fling my satellite dish over the garden wall...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Guess who's back?

It looks like being a big night on Wednesday with Francesco Totti making his comeback to competitive action in the first leg of the Coppa Italia final against Inter. This is great news for Roma but even better for Italy. If he comes through unscathed, the Azzurri have just got a big player back for Germany.

No matter what your allegiance, you have got to wish him well and hope that he keeps clear of Materazzi! I believe that he and Pirlo together give Italy one of the most creative and defence-splitting midfields in the world. The Milan man has been on a slump of late but teaming up with Totti could be just the tonic he needs.

In the UK, it seems, they always say that Totti lets us down on the big occasions but I would still rather have him with us than against us. There are not that many matchwinners in the world and he is one. If he can finally keep his head, get among the goals and supply the killer passes for Toni, Gilardino and whoever then it could be one hell of a summer.

So, although I am no Interista nor Romanista, I will be watching this year's Coppa Italia final with more interest than usual. Forza Francesco!

Sunday, April 30, 2006

The 'magic' of Materazzi

There was still a chance that Inter could snatch a place in the group stages of the Champs League without having to play qualifying ties until their star man stepped in. Up came Marco Materazzi with one of the most spectacular long-range own goals ever seen. In one act he saved Empoli from relegation, condemned Inter to the qualifying stages and gave the rest of us a right good laugh.

All of this on the same day that Marcello Lippi called up his squad for the latest training stage. Roma and Inter players were left out because of their cup final commitments but, surely, the Mister would be best to tell Materazzi his invitation has been lost for good. We will never tire of saying it here - the man is a liability for both club and country. He will either make a blunder or get sent off. Neither of which is a good thing.

On the same note, we notice our power has seen Inzaghi called up to the squad (nothing to do with his goals of course). Also in there a few surprises. Looks like Amelia is favourite for the third goalkeeper spot (although De Sanctis is in there too). Fiorentina's Gamberini gets a call up (a good player and a great seafood dish), so does Semioli (Chievo have been going great) and Tavano (his goals deserve it). I think Lucarelli might still end up being more likely to get a spot - particularly if Vieri cannot go. No big shocks but still hope for a few outsiders to sneak in at the end.

Good to see Daniele De Rossi in such good form from the point of view of the Nazionale and Simone Perrotta. Plus will be watching Totti through the week to see how he goes. Of the Inter omissions, well, there is only really the aforementioned Materazzi and I think you all know what I think of him...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Isn't it ironic?

A team sits back in defence all night, barely manages a shot on goal, provides no support for its loan striker and earns plaudits. Yes, Arsenal's 0-0 draw with Villareal has been receiving the usual rave reviews from the media. Is it too cynical to suggest that if an Italian team had played in that manner they might not have received such recognition? Indeed, isn't the 'crime' of catenaccio one that Italian sides have been sentenced to condemnation for decades after they stopped playing it?

Still, hats off to the Gunners for getting to their first Champs League final. In previous games, to be fair, they were not so defensive. A team that can't even finish in a Champions League spot in their domestic league salvaged by a dodgy foreign keeper. It all sounds horribly familiar, doesn't it? It would be nice for Milan to get through to get a chance to kill the ghosts of Istanbul. Doesn't look likely but if they can at least convert the chances they will undoubtedly create they might yet have a hope...

Monday, April 24, 2006

Amazing days

After their weekend win over Empoli and Roma's surprising blank at home to Sampdoria, Fiorentina are three points clear in the race for the last Champions League place. Let's just stop to think about that.

Last year the Viola only survived in Serie A on the final day of the season.

The year before that they won promotion out of Serie B in an end of campaign play-off after an amazing final run of results.

And 12 months earlier they were kicking of their Serie C2 life against mighty Sangiovannese.

If there has been a more miraculous recovery in football I have not noticed it. Even if they miss out now and end in the UEFA Cup it would still cap a phenomenal resurgence. Hope, if it were needed, for Napoli, Genoa and other big club laid low in recent seasons.

Monday, April 17, 2006

May the Genio be with you

Milan v Barcelona will never be an ordinary game for anybody of a certain age. For tifosi of Italian football who can remember it, the fixture produced one of the great European Cup finals of all time. The Rossoneri were cast as the evil ones, defenders of the dark arts and negativity personified. Barca, on the other hand, were all that was good about the game which their Coach - Johann Cruyff if memory serves - was not slow in telling anyone who would listen.

The match, of course, was the stuff of folklore. Milan went on the attack from the outset, destroyed their Spanish rivals with a string of beautiful strikes - the pick of them a peach from Dejan Savicevic, Il Genio. May his spirit be with the Rossoneri again on Tuesday night as they carry Italy's colours in the the Champions League. I have read a lot recently about the decline of Italian football - it would be nice to turn that on its head. Whatever happens, it is unlikely to be a dull game.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The impossible dream?

Ok, let's face it, the "Culo di Juve" is alive and well as their 95th minute equaliser against Cagliari underlined. But, just the same, the Bianconeri have looked far from impressive in recent outings. Could it yet be possible for them to miss out on Scudetto 29?

In a word, no. Carlo Ancelotti has got his Milan team so concentrated on Europe that the title barely seems to merit a mention. It's a shame they fielded an understrength team at Lecce which cost them defeat. Otherwise we could all have a great showdown.

Their only hope is the lesson of history. When Ancelotti himself was in charge of Juve they lost a similar lead to Lazio.

The last games are Juve (away in caps): Lazio, SIENA, Palermo, REGGINA.
Milan: MESSINA, Livorno, PARMA, Roma.

I would bet on Juve clinching it at home to Palermo but if they can come away from the Lazio match without defeat it is probably all over. Still, it's nice to dream isn't it?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Not again

It seems that Bobby Mansions - the erstwhile Roberto Mancini - is pig sick of Italian football. The latest sorry incident where two of his players were apparently attacked by fans was the clincher for Mancio. He will apparently leave the country at the end of his reign at Inter to seek employment elsewhere - somewhere where the game is still played for fun.

Good luck, Roberto, in finding that place but certainly there are more and more of these sorry incidents creeping into the game. It was truly rich to hear Juve fans jeering their team off the pitch after capitulation to Arsenal. Yes, the Bianconeri were bad over two legs but what to these fans think they deserve. They have got a team strolling to its 29th title and that is not enough for them. What exactly do they expect?

There is a lot wrong at Inter and maybe Mancini could find a bit of refreshing change at a smaller club. The Nerazzurri are turning into the most paranoid side in Italy - seeing conspiracy and nasty plots where really there are none. They were short of the quality needed both in Serie A and Europe this year. A few minor adjustments and they could certainly be good enough in Italy but, instead, Mancini will probably leave, the whole team will be scrapped and it will be back to the same old routine.

If there was anything I could change about Italian football it would be that. The constant recriminations - rather than accepting defeat - and the knee-jerk revolutions that have never done anybody any good. Ask Aldo Spinelli at Livorno about pushing Donadoni out to be replaced by losses-on-the-trot Mazzone!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Pippo Must Go

After his latest heroic performance for Milan, it seems the right time to launch a campaign to ensure that Filippo Inzaghi gets a place in Marcello Lippi's squad for the summer.

He can be frustrating, annoying and a general nuisance but no Italian player puts the ball in the net as regularly as he does - nor at such crucial moments. That is why I am seeking support for the "Pippo Must Go" campaign launched on April 5, 2006 with the sole aim of seeking Pippogol among the 23 taken to Germany.

If you feel like me, join the campaign by emailing the Italian federation with your view.

The email address is:

Our template message, if you wish to copy is as follows...

Egregio/a signore/a,

Sono un tifoso italiano che vuole vedere la nostra nazionale vincere i mondiali in Germania. Per questo aderisco alla campagna "Pippo Must Go" e scrivo per esprimere il mio desiderio di vedere Filippo Inzaghi tra i convocati per Germania 2006.

Distinti saluti,

Come on Italian football fans, you know it makes sense.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Honours even in Champions League showdown

On a beautiful Florentine day it ended honours even between the Viola and Roma on Sunday in their battle for the last Champions League spot in Serie A but what a battle it was.

The men in purple went ahead - no surprise - through Luca Toni who was a half a yard offside but the goal stood. That came just two minutes into the game and Cesare Prandelli's men were content to sit back after than and let Roma pile on the pressure which eventually told when the unlikely source of Leandro Cufre levelled the match.

It was disappointing to see the Tuscan team show so little attacking intent when that has been their hallmark all season but, equally, credit to Roma for throwing themselves forward despite their lack of a recognised striker. On balance they probably deserved to win although Fiorentina always looked dangerous from Pasqual's free-kicks.

The match saw a number of World Cup contenders on show but Fiore was quite quiet, Perrotta still looked strong, Brocchi was dependable and Pasqual pretty impressive. It's a shame the old 'mad dog' Panucci is out of favour as he has been in the form of his life this season. Also, would it really be so outrageous to give Dainelli a shot at glory? He has been solid as a rock this season and is not prone to the rushes of blood we always get from Materazzi. Just a thought.

The run-in continues like this. Away games in capitals.

Fiorentina: JUVE, TREVISO, Empoli, PALERMO, Reggina, CHIEVO.
Roma: Lecce, PALERMO, Sampdoria, CHIEVO, Treviso, MILAN.

My guess is the Viola will pick up eight or nine points from what they have left, Roma should manage 10 or 11 and sneak home with a couple of points to spare. Although a lot will depend on how the season pans out and if some teams have nothing left to fight for we all know what a strange country Italy is.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

All open for the Milanese

Well, after the grim performance that Juve provided there was some pleasure provided by the two Milanese outfits on Wednesday night.

Inter, let's face it, were their usual infuriating selves slipping behind to a goal that Wome should have a few nightmares about but fighting back with some determination and passion. They will have a hard but not impossible task in the away leg. One thought that crossed my mind during the game was - why did Mancio sign Cesar? I am about 50/50 split on his imports from Lazio. I understand Stankovic and, to a lesser extent, Veron. But Mihailovic and Cesar leave me cold. The latter was poor against Villareal and has never made an impact. Mind you, he is better than Kily Gonzalez.

On the Milan front, they started off well and could have gone in at half time ahead. Maybe Lyon showed them too much respect but they did not look the goal machines they did in previous rounds. In the second half they were sharper but Milan held firm. A word of praise to Billy Costacurta who looks determined to become the oldest player ever to play in Serie A and is in condition to do so. He was impressive and so was the returning Paolo Maldini. Italy fans will have been pleased to see Nesta in fine form too. At 0-0 they have every chance of going through.

Black night for Juve

Well, it was 2-0 going on 5-0 for the Italian champions elect at Highbury last night which was both disappointing and embarrassing. The Bianconeri started off alright but quickly faded as the Gunners took the initiative and a big advantage to the Delle Alpi next week. A few random thoughts on proceedings:

1) Why did a manager so astute as Capello bring Zebina with him to Turin? He looks a liability and is prone to seeing red on a regular basis.

2) Is Adrian Mutu really any good? He gets good reviews in Serie A but was a failure (for a variety of reasons) in the Premiership and rarely impresses in Champions League.

3) Once Ibrahimovic was well-marked the Juve attack had very little to offer. Despite what Luciano Moggi says they do need some back up to Trez-Del P-Ibra as the gap to Zalayeta is too great.